Vernon Corea mentioned in a Sunday Times Sri Lanka article on the famous Galle Face Hotel in Colombo

Radio Ceylon broadcaster Vernon Corea was recently mentioned in a Sunday Times Sri Lanka feature on the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo:

From 1864, it has seen it all

With one of Colombo’s legendary landmarks, Galle Face Hotel reopening its doors after a facelift, Vinusha Paulraj walks down its corridors from a dim distant past to modern times.

Lined by Dutch cannons strategically placed to ward off returning Portuguese fleets, the mile-long promenade by Colombo’s sea front was the favoured spot for the colonial gentry ‘to take in the air’.

The way it was: Galle Face Hotel in its early days

It was British Governor Sir Henry Ward who commissioned the Galle Face Green, as we know it, in the late 1850s. Earlier the Green had sprawled over a much larger expanse with horse races being held there until they were moved to Colombo’s Race Course in the early 1800s.

Like the Green it overlooks, Galle Face Hotel’s stately façade is an integral part of Colombo’s landscape and one that has morphed with time.

As the historic hotel last month proudly unveiled its refurbished interiors with the management’s vision focused on restoring some lost grandeur, one of the hotel’s newly installed resident historians Sandali Matharage walked us through from past to present.

A team of British entrepreneurs constructed the Galle Face Hotel on the Green’s Southern end in 1864 where a Dutch building housing ammunition for their cannons and the soldiers manning them had once stood.

Vintage touch: Torch lamps light the con servatory. Pix by Indika Handuwala

The Dutch structure called “Galle Face House” was completely torn down, says Matharage, and rising in its place was “What we call the Hotel’s North Wing” designed by renowned architect Thomas Skinner.

Prior to the Suez Canal’s opening in 1869, the hotel had only consisted of the North Wing but shorter travel times saw a greater influx of visitors brought in by the ships calling at Colombo and the “South Wing” was built in 1890 to meet this demand.

The verandah runs across the building’s length, opening up to an arrestingly regal pillared porch which has seen the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Pope John Paul II and Steven Spielberg pass through.

Where once horse-drawn carriages bearing the Galle Face Hotel crest drew up, today taxis wait outside the same low walls hoping for a guest in need of a quick ride.

Vintage photographs of the main entrance show some notable changes during the 1960’s -70’s. Glass panelled doors were replaced by thick wooden ones with ornate oriental carvings.

If these walls could speak: The Coconut Room, now the Jubilee Room has witnessed many a rollicking party from yesteryear

The balustrade trimming a terrace over the porch was substituted by “something resembling tiles”.

“Originally there weren’t any majestic carved doors,” says Matharage explaining that in their place stood elegantly framed glass, with no local elaborations.

“There’s been significant streamlining of added frills which don’t seem evident in the few pictures of the hotel’s original interior. We have many pictures of the outside, but not as much of the inside.”

A colour photograph is how they discovered that the Galle Face Hotel was actually pink, Matharage says. The rosy hue owing to building materials used is now covered under layers of plaster.

Legendary parties are said to have been hosted in the “Coconut Room”. Famously known by that name in the early 1900s, the room had witnessed New Year’s Eve parties particularly during WWII that had even drowned out the sound of air raid sirens.

“Luckily it was just a drill and the band played on,” she smiles. In the 60’s the Coconut Room played host to talent searches like Radio Star Ceylon, hosted by Vernon Corea.

Local touch: Tissa Ranasinghe’s terracotta mural installed in 1970 now in full view at one end of the lounge

It was here that the Jetliners were discovered and the band went on to record their first album in the lobby. Minus dated tapestry trailing down from the skylight, today this space is called the Jubilee Ballroom.

No colonial hotel is complete without a grand ballroom. Before renovations guests could peer down into Galle Face Hotel’s grand ballroom from the balconies but these have now been sealed off to keep noise from echoing throughout the hotel.

Between the two renowned venues is what we’re told is “the Conservatory” which serves as an extended foyer to both ballrooms. Brass torch-like lamps resembling the original lamp-shades found in the dining room are new additions here.

Time has invariably muffled much that went on inside the Galle Face Hotel. Reports of a spa run by two sisters in one of the rooms, fail to mention where their establishment was in fact located.

Another shot in the dark for the staff was to assume records of a sport “enjoyed by both men and women” was a reference to croquet. Guests are soon to receive instructions on how to play the game as the hotel recently inaugurated its own “The Colombo Croquet Club.”

The South Wing: Wood panels and Otis elevator

The Sri Lankan touch is seen in the lobby where artist Tissa Ranasinghe’s large terracotta mural installed in 1970 depicting multi-ethnic worship in the country, previously visible over the former front desk, is now in full view at one end of the lounge.

The former smoking-lounge complete with wood panelled screen doors where Arthur C.Clarke is said to have penned the final chapters of his Space Odyssey trilogy isn’t included in the in-house tour.

But here behind the screen door is another ‘find’ from the 1940’s – an incomplete mural of brightly coloured dancers and fresh green foliage by Russian artist Alexander Sofronoff.

Connecting the North and South Wings is the black and white corridor synonymous with the Galle Face Terrace where countless cups of afternoon tea have been savoured.

Old photographs suggest that initially this was the restaurant itself, overlooking a larger lawn. Now the restaurant has grown, occupying more lawn-space.

The Southern Wing not used to capacity for the past 50 years has “a different feel to it” our guide shares. “We discovered that the elevators first installed in 1890 were manufactured by Otis, the same brand we use to date.”

Attention-grabbing exhibit in the museum: The cannon ball

Today its wood-toned interior houses guest rooms, a library featuring works of all celebrity guests and a museum in the conference area where plaques with familiar faces – former 007s, sportsmen, Olympic athletes, celebrated politicians, revolutionaries, clergy, royalty, explorers and authors who have visited the hotel stare back at you.

Next to the china “imported from the UK” imprinted with each modification of the hotel’s logo, a particular exhibit catches our attention.

The cannon ball sitting on a velvety bed has a curious tale. Misfired by a soldier in training, it had sailed through the hotel’s roof landing on the ground and rolling under a table around which a family was enjoying breakfast.

Thankfully it failed to detonate. It is a potent reminder that the Galle Face Hotel has seen it all and still stands strong.


Sunday Times Sri Lanka: The La Bambas thank Vernon Corea

The Sri Lankan music group. the La Bambas sought Vernon Corea's help, advice and support in the 1960s. They have visited Vernon Corea when he stayed at 5 Maha Nuge Gardens in Colombo in the 1960s.

The Sri Lankan music group. the La Bambas sought Vernon Corea’s help, advice and support in the 1960s. They have visited Vernon Corea when he stayed at 5 Maha Nuge Gardens in Colombo in the 1960s.

The Sunday Times newspaper in Sri Lanka published an article on the 1960s Sri Lankan music group, the La Bambas. They mention Sri Lankan broadcaster Vernon Corea thanking him for helping them in numerous ways. Priya Peiris and his group have visited Vernon Corea when he lived at 5 Maha Nuge Gardens to ask for his advice and support. The music group, composed of Priya Peiris, Rolinson Ferdinando, Brian Fernando, Erinton Perera and Lasla Fernando. They were one of the first Sinhala groups to utilize a box guitar, and were popular in Sri Lanka during the late ‘1960s; their hits include “Cock-a-doodle-do”, “Nuwara Menikela”, “Himidiriye (Piyakaru Mala)” and “Lak Nadhee”.

Listen to clips of the La Bambas:

Dr. Gamani Corea A True Son of Sri Lanka – Business Times Section of the Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Dr. Gamani Corea

Dr. Gamani Corea

The Business Times Tribute to Dr. Gamani Corea –

True son of Sri Lanka: Gamani Corea: 1925-2013
By Saman Kelegama

Gamani Corea, a distinguished Sri Lankan economist passed away on November 2, two days short of his 88th birthday. With his passing away, the well-known first generation of post-independence economists of Sri Lanka have almost faded away. Corea distinguished himself not only in domestic economic policy affairs but also in international diplomacy and policy. It is worth revisiting his contribution in both these areas.

Domestic Civil Servant

After schooling at Royal College, Colombo, and graduating from the Oxbridge Universities in the UK, Corea joined the Central Bank of Ceylon in 1950 with the first batch of young recruits. In 1952, he was seconded to the newly formed Planning Secretariat where he soon became its Director and played a key role in the preparation of the 6-Year Plan of the government. Thereafter, he was appointed the Secretary of the Planning Council formed in 1956 and was instrumental in preparing the first 10-Year Plan of Ceylon: 1959-1968. Corea collaborated closely with Prof. Mahalonabis, a distinguished Indian Statistician in preparing the National Plan. He also interacted with a number of reputed visiting economists such as John Kenneth Galbraith, Oscar Lang, John and Ursula Hicks, Gunnar Myrdal, Nicholas Kaldor, and Joan Robinson who advised on planning. The 10-Year Plan became a strong reference document for the subsequent plans that were prepared by the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

In 1960, Corea returned to the Central Bank and worked there as the Director of Economic Research till 1965. It was during this time, in 1963, that Corea first met Raul Prebisch (renowned Latin American economist) at a meeting in Geneva. Prebisch subsequently invited Corea to New York to join the team involved in the preparation of the World Conference on Development, which later became known as UNCTAD-I. Prebisch became the first Secretary General of UNCTAD and Corea made a mark in the UNCTAD fora as an articulate spokesman and as a skillful negotiator for Sri Lanka and Third World countries.

In 1965, his career took a new turn – the new Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake, appointed him as the Permanent Secretary of the newly created Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs. In this position, which was under the direct purview of the Prime Minister, Corea virtually became the sole architect of economic policies of the nation during 1965-1970. Three noteworthy contributions of Corea during this period were: (a) reversing the cut in US assistance to Sri Lanka (under the Hickenlooper Amendment); (b) establishing the aid consortium to implement a recovery programme, and (c) partial liberalization of the economy and implementing the dual exchange rate system.

The strategy of the then government was to mobilize aid to address the growing foreign exchange shortages in the economy and for this purpose, Sri Lanka had to get the US back on its good books as the US had stopped aid to Sri Lanka after the takeover of US oil companies in the early 1960s without compensation. This problem had to be fixed before approaching other donors for aid which task Corea tactfully handled and succeeded.

With the aid donors in place, the IMF insisted on devaluation of the currency to promote exports and reduce imports to ensure the stability and sustainability of foreign reserves. Corea was of the view that with the decline in commodity prices in the global market, the expected export gains from the devaluation would be less than expected. Moreover, the government wanted to have the import substitution industries and a ‘food drive’ in the economy with the additional foreign exchange mobilized via the aid consortium. Thus, import liberalization was initiated largely as an aid to import substitution by way of ensuring the availability of imported machinery and inputs for domestic industry and agriculture. Hence, what emerged was a compromised policy of import substitution and export promotion and accordingly, Corea was instrumental in setting up the multiple exchange rate system in 1968. It was the first time in Sri Lanka that the exchange rate was deliberately used as a policy tool for export promotion in Sri Lanka. The IMF, though not totally satisfied with the half-hearted attempt, diplomatically referred to this move as “the wrong step in the right direction”.

In 1970, with the change of government, Corea went back to the Central Bank as the Deputy Governor, but decided to resign from the Bank shortly afterwards to undertake various UN assignments, notably chairing the conference setting up the UN Environment Programme. In 1973, he became the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the European Union in Belgium – a position that set the stage for him to build up an effective network in the UNCTAD circles.

International Civil Servant

In 1974, Corea was elected to the prestigious position of the Secretary General of UNCTAD, a position he held for 11 years till 1984. To quote the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Lakshman Kadirgamar: “Within weeks of his assuming office, it became clear that he was going to wield significant influence on the development of international economic affairs. His public presentations and speeches were fluent, clear, and elegantly phrased. They drew the admiration of the entire global economic community. They certainly made all the Asian delegations, indeed all Third World delegations extremely proud because in Gamani Corea they had found a man who walked tall, stood his ground and was more than a match for his interlocutors from the developed countries”.

Under Corea’s leadership, UNCTAD became a hive of intellectual activity. A stream of studies on a wide range of subjects touching almost every conceivable aspect of international trade and commerce – banking, insurance, shipping, the transfer of technology, restrictive business practices, commodities, and so on were issued from the UNCTAD Secretariat. The codes of restrictive business practices, multi-modal transport, linear conferences, the charter on rights and duties of states, the cancellation of debt by poor countries, the concept of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) were all achievements of UNCTAD via a dialogue with developed countries. Corea was instrumental in introducing the Integrated Programme for Commodities – commonly known as the Corea Plan – which according to Professor Sydney Dell “was among the finest of his achievements.”

Recognizing the fact that developing countries wield little influence individually and find it difficult to protect their interests, Corea has done more than most in promoting efforts to strengthen the bargaining power and negotiating capacity of developing countries as a group. It was one of Corea’s many strengths as Secretary General of UNCTAD that he never became cynical or embittered about the North-South deadlock that he faced continually, and always retained confidence in the power of persuasion and in the ultimate victory of reason over unreason. These efforts did not stop when he ceased to be Secretary General of UNCTAD. In the 1990s, the report of the Non-Aligned Movement’s Expert Group on Third World Debt, which he chaired, was important in influencing the decision to establish the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

In 1986, Corea was offered a Visiting Fellowship at Corpus Christie College, Cambridge to work on a book on UNCTAD, which finally came out in 1992 titled: Taming Commodity Markets: The Integrated Programme and the Common Fund at UNCTAD. Corea acknowledged in the book that the new international climate does not favour commodity price stabilization. But he made a strong case for it by arguing that despite industrialization and diversification of exports, most developing countries were crucially dependent on commodities for a substantial part of their foreign exchange earnings. Thus, the instability and downward trend in commodity prices continues to be the underlying reason for underdevelopment. A central theme in Corea’s thinking was that developing and developed countries should cooperate in ensuring the stabilization and strengthening of commodity prices, as this is in the long run interest of global economic management.

In the 1990s, he made important contributions to the analysis of the emerging global economic system from the perspective of developing countries and worked assiduously to assist developing countries define a common platform. He also put his energies into consolidating the position of the South on these matters by working with the South Commission, the South Centre, the Non-Aligned Movement, and indirectly with the Group of 77. In recognition of his lead role in developing country concerns, he was appointed as the Chairman of the South Centre in 2002 after the death of Julius Nyrere – the former President of Tanzania.

Economist and Scholar

From 1950 to the mid-1970s, Corea made a number of scholarly contributions to academic journals. He was in fact one of the first contributors to the Ceylon Economist – the first post-independent economic journal of Sri Lanka. Later, he made contributions to the Marga Quarterly Journal during the early seventies. Corea’s doctoral dissertation which he did under the supervision of Lady Ursula Hicks at Oxford (1953) was published by the Marga Institute in 1975. The book titled ‘Instability of an Export Economy’ clearly demonstrates his early thinking regarding developing trends in the world market and the need for caution by developing countries in aggressively promoting exports.

Back in Sri Lanka (mid-1980s and 1990s) saw Corea’s involvement as the Chancellor of the Open University, Chairman of both the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (1989-2006) and Marga Institute, President of the Sri Lanka Economic Association (1985-1991) and the National Academy of Sciences, Board Member of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, etc. He became a regular contributor to local journals such as the Sri Lanka Economic Journal and Economic Review (People’s Bank). He was also a recipient of the first Deshamanya Award (1987), Shahabdeen Award (1994) and Visva Prasadini (1996). In his Memoirs, Corea states: “All these events and occurrences made me feel that despite the absence of any official role, I was helping in various ways to contribute to events and developments in Sri Lanka’ (p.460).

Corea was a much sought after speaker in public gatherings and was in the limelight articulating his long-held views – effortlessly holding the attention of an audience with his remarkable memory, clarity of thought, imaginative ideas and dry wit. Some of Corea’s views on various subjects are worth highlighting. In regard to industrialization he always argued for some degree of protectionism stating that it is not only the infant industry argument that one should look at but also the fact that most developing countries are “infant economies”. Corea did not believe in the text-book case for the invisible hand of the market, nor did he advocate full-scale state intervention in an economy. Corea often used the parallel of the colonial economy in Sri Lanka where there was no intervention and markets were free to operate but industrialization hardly took place.

Corea did not believe in the so-called “level playing field”, stating that under such a field “the stronger team will keep winning year after year”. He always believed in an international regulation mechanism under which the disadvantaged initial conditions of the developing countries in developmental efforts are explicitly taken into account. He referred frequently to globalization and liberalization as a ‘fast express train’ that everyone has been requested to get into to be carried to new heights, and if they do not get in, they would be left behind and marginalized. He viewed the current policy prescriptions to developing countries as a “do-it-yourself kit”, a self-help apparatus, with emphasis almost exclusively on domestic policy, soft-pedalling and underplaying the external economic environment.

Mentor and Friend

Many of the senior officials of the Ministry of Planning and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka were Corea’s protégés. Many economists at the Sri Lanka Economic Association, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, and the Marga Institute also grew up under Corea’s guidance and leadership. Corea was a simple unassuming gentleman and interacted with people from all walks of life. He never boasted about his achievements. Twice he was invited to take the portfolio of Ministry of Finance and Planning – first, by Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake in 1965 at the time of forming the Cabinet and second, by President J.R. Jayawardene when Ronnie De Mel left the government over political differences in 1987. On both occasions he refused to take the offer. Perhaps his shying away from politics had much to do with his own domestic experience both at the Planning Ministry and the Central Bank where he was treated indifferently with the change of governments. Some of these “official exiles” are well explained in his Memoirs published by the Gamani Corea Foundation in 2008( )

Corea belonged to a rare breed of professionals. As said by President Mahinda Rajapaksa “his career was a trail of excellence that can hardly be matched” and said by Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh “his work and thinking in the area of economic development were of immense significance not only for Sri Lanka, but also for developing countries around the world”. He was a great son of Sri Lanka. May his soul rest in peace.

(Kelegama is the Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka)

Sunday Times Sri Lanka: Corea – Last of the Mohicans

The Sunday Times Newspaper tribute on Dr. Gamani Corea –

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Corea: Last of the Mohicans

The accolades and plaudits for Gamani Corea, one of Sri Lanka’s most distinguished local and international civil servants continued to flow in on Friday, five days after he was cremated in Colombo.

While there is an appreciation on this page by a fellow economist and junior colleague of the humble Horton Place resident summarising the work and the breadth of intellectual connect that this ‘true son of Sri Lanka’ had in a long professional career in Sri Lanka and abroad, this commentary is meant to reflect on the ‘good old days’ when such men of standing and calibre exemplified the country’s public service.

In a way, Corea – until his death – was the ‘last of the Mohicans, a select band of people who were groomed, geared, educated and were unwavering in their task of serving the public.

Among the remaining few distinguished civil servants of the 1950s-1980s generation are Bradman Weerakoon, Dharmasiri Peiris and Tissa Devendra to name a few.

Those were also the heady days when straight-forward politicians separated politics from the business of running government. Here is an example capturing that era from one of the many comments on websites, acknowledging the contribution of this great patriot: “Dr. Gamani Corea was a true son of Sri Lanka who served governments of different hues with the same spirit of professionalism and objectivity in advice. Despite being a nephew of Sir John Kotalawela who was routed in the 1956 elections, the winning Prime Minister (S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike) appointed Dr. Corea to head the National Planning Secretariat set up under his government”.

Those were the days when public servants were uncompromising in whatever they did, sticking to the ARs and FRs (administrative and financial regulations), by the book. Such was the dominance of the public service, on the lines of the Indian civil service which has remained an independentinstitution unlike our civil service, that officials would not waver from a decision even if their job was on the line.

Humility was either acquired or came naturally to many public servants of a bygone era. For example, walk into the room of D.B.I.P.S. Siriwardena, one-time Public Administration and Home Affairs Secretary (in the late 1970s) and you are greeted with a smile. ‘DBIPS’ as he was popularly known, was a towering personality, simply dressed in a neatly pressed, white short-sleeved shirt and white trousers who sat at a table sans the mountain of files and paraphernalia now seen on tables of modern-day colleagues. “Whenever I get a file, I immediately attend to it and send it away. That’s why my table is (almost bare),” he once laughed when asked by a journalist on how he was able to maintain a ‘dignified’ table. The white shirt and white trousers was also a dress code of that era.

On the other side of the fence – in the private sector – there were similar examples. Walk into the room of the late D.S. Jayasundera, chairman of Hayleys Group and visitors were equally put at ease by this gentle giant in the corporate sector. His table too was bare for the same reasons!

In an endearing interview with the Sunday Times headlined “Flight to Destiny”, Gamani Corea recalled a memorable trip in 1945 to England in the company of former Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake before independence. They were travelling by ship and the young Corea was proceeding for studies to Cambridge University. That February 4, 2007 interview could be seen at

As to when the standards of the public service deteriorated has been debated over and over again. Some argue that even in the immediate, post-independence era political interference was evident.

However there is little doubt that the standards worsened in the late 1970s and thereafter with political interference and meddling being the order of the day. Today public servants without any hesitation work for their political masters, not the people who they are meant to see. They are, as envisaged by British colonial rulers, ‘servants of the people’. But are they working with this focus and commitment in mind? More often than not members of the public would walk into the room of a public servant with a sense of fear, trepidation and worry.

ARs and FRs have been thrown aside and a joke doing the rounds in some circles is that after the ARs and FRs rule book, came the JR (rule book) and the MR (rule book)!

Corea belonged to a fading generation, by around the 1980s, of public officials who stood up for what was right and quit, if asked to bend, sway or disregard laid-down governance rules and structures. Quite contrary to the attitude and behaviour of today’s officials, who are unmoved even if strictures by the judiciary have been made against them.

Such was the talent and credentials of public servants of that generation that they were instantly grabbed by international organisations, before retirement or after with Corea reaching the pinnacle of success through his years as Secretary General of UNCTAD.
While times have changed, much water has flowed under the bridge and Sri Lankans live in trying times – recovering from 30 years of conflict -, an efficient and accountable public service is a sine qua non for a developing country racing ahead with reforms, to catch up on lost time.

A public service that the likes of Corea would be proud to join (if born in this generation) and truly serve the interests of the people; not their political masters and “henchiyas”.

The day Sir Laurence Olivier landed at Ratmalana Airport

Sir Laurence Olivier was in Ceylon during the filming of Elephant Walk in January 1953.

Sir Laurence Olivier was in Ceylon during the filming of Elephant Walk in January 1953.

He was one of the world’s greatest actors married to the beautiful Vivien Leigh. But he had to take an unexpected trip to Ceylon landing at Ratmalana Airport in January 1953. His wife Vivien Leigh who was given the starring role in ‘Elephant Walk’ was having a massive breakdown. Irving Asher, the producer of Elephant Walk sent frantic message to London urging Laurence Oliver to fly to Ceylon.

The stars fly to Ceylon.

The stars fly to Ceylon.

Richard Boyle of the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka tells the story –

‘Just one week later, in January 1953, they flew to Ceylon, Olivier requesting Finch at Heathrow “to take care of her”, not specifically stating that he meant she was afraid of flying. “Don’t worry,” replied Finch, “I will.” And he certainly did, far beyond the fear of flying.

“When their plane arrived at its destination,” writes Capua, “Vivien and Finch [remember he had encountered the island as a child] were enchanted with its natural beauty and by the local culture, which evoked many memories of her childhood.” Memories apart, inexorably the exotic ambience fuelled their already intense love affair, probably the most dazzling and spellbinding to have occurred among stars during the history of location filming in Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

Vivien’s unconventional behaviour on the production began several days after her arrival. During make-up, a Ceylonese assistant responsible for calling actors to the set came to check if she was ready. In awe of her beauty he couldn’t help but stare at her. She started shaking. When he departed the make-up artist asked what was wrong and she replied, “I’m so frightened of black eyes. I’ve always been frightened of black eyes.”

Providentially, Vivien’s Elephant Walk experience, referenced with subjective emotion in Olivier’s autobiography and in a detached manner in Vivien’s and Finch’s biographies, has been augmented by Bevis Bawa’s first-hand descriptions in Bevis Bawa’s Brief (2011). Their sense of humour is engaging, but more profound is the way he treats Vivien as an ‘ordinary’ person: “I spent hours in my chair at the Galle Face Hotel where she stayed, which was in the direct line from the lift to the cashier’s desk which she appeared to visit more frequently than most people. She fortunately did not trip over my feet but did drop a swizzle stick out of her bag when looking for her traveller’s cheques.”

Gallant Bawa launched his considerable frame in a dive to the floor to retrieve the stick and said to her: “I believe this is yours”. “She thanked me as any lady would, but her smile, which was a combination of her film and stage self, made me feel like Sir Laurence, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Peter Finch and the whole motley lot rolled into one.”

Considering the relatively short shoot, and the heavy demands of a film production, Bawa spent much time with Vivien and Peter during the production, as well as Olivier during his stay. There is a misconception that Vivien was a couch star. In fact most observers, including Bawa, were astonished by her levels of energy. Moreover, Bawa conveys her desire to experience the country in some small way:

“We were in the middle of dinner at the Muslim Hotel in Kandy when she said, ‘I am climbing Adam’s Peak tonight. I must get to the top before sunrise.’ My heart thumped to a halt and Peter swallowed a chicken bone, ‘Don’t worry. The bedroom boy and my chauffeur have agreed to escort me.’ At lunch next day she was rather groggy at the knees but looked as fresh as ever . . . I questioned her escorts later and they told me that not even Vivien could have climbed the Peak and worked the following day, so they had taken her up Bible Rock instead.”

“One night after a gruelling day’s work she drove all the way from Anuradhapura to Kurunegala to watch a devil dancing ceremony which had been laid on for her.” The story goes that she became convinced that the devil had taken possession of her, but Bawa makes no mention of such a calamitous situation.

Other stories claim she tried to seduce a 64-year-old assistant, refused to act if Dieterle was looking at her, and always wanted to wear her costume wig tilted back. There was a growing fear of those dark eyes, night fires, the jungle, the heat. Finch and she drank heavily. Soon she became pale and emaciated. Dieterle, at his wit’s end, ordered her to rest, which made her defiant.

In his autobiography, Confessions of an Actor (1982), Olivier recounts that although Vivien had departed for Ceylon a fortnight earlier, “It seemed hardly two minutes before my peace was shattered”. This was due to a frantic phone call from the film’s producer, Irving Asher, to Olivier’s agent, Cecil Tennant, imploring him to send his client to Ceylon as work was at a virtual standstill.

Oliver obliged in haste. Paramount declared a holiday on his day of arrival so that Vivien could go and meet him. However, she decided it would be better if he came to meet her in Kandy. “So we went for a picnic about ten miles away from Kandy,” Bawa writes. “Halfway through our sandwiches and beer, she said: ’I think I will go down and meet Larry after all.’ . . . It was a drive I’ll never forget . . . At Ambepussa we dropped in for a quick gin and tonic. We had another at Galle Face, and then aimed at Ratmalana. We arrived just in time to see Larry getting into a taxi looking very cross indeed.”

Olivier insisted she return to work immediately. “This was met by a blaze of rage that surprised even me,” he writes. “In the unhappy colloquy that followed, I thought ruefully of the wretched waste of time, effort and money that I had been party to.” When they reached the Queen’s Hotel, Kandy, Olivier found that Finch was in as much control of the situation as he would have been. He was superfluous.

Vivien’s maid claimed that Vivien and Finch had not been to bed together but had stayed up and “lain together all night on the hillsides” – which meant she staggered to work each morning, was haggard, and often forgot her lines.

Inevitably Vivien, who had an increased libido due to her illness, brought up the subject of sex during dinner, which confirmed the predilections of Olivier and Finch: “I was most impressed on how she used her fingers when eating, using only the very tips most elegantly. She suddenly started talking about sex. As I felt she was skating on very thin ice I told her I was homosexual. She laughed and said, ‘But isn’t everybody? Larry is inclined that way too.’ Peter said, ‘Good Lord, I am gay too.’ This put me at my ease as I knew I was with broad-minded friends.”

During Olivier’s visit, Bawa made husband and wife climb the hill to Minette de Silva’s house. What happened sounds contrary to Olivier’s autobiography. “Vivien and Sir Laurence, in between our climbing and panting, thought they should put on a one-act play for me. They were so brilliant that I clearly saw them as the characters they were portraying, two British cockney naval ratings talking in the crudest of language. Vivien’s voice was gruff and she occasionally spat over the rails of an imaginary destroyer. She was being scolded by the boss, and what they said to each other kept me doubled up with amusement.”

As Olivier relates: “I’d arrived on Tuesday, and having expressed my regrets to Asher and wished him all the luck that he needed – which was a superabundance of it – I got myself onto a plane on the Friday morning and was in Paris on the Saturday [to work on The Beggar’s Opera]. My situation did not really bear any more thinking about, and I managed to insulate my feelings in a soft coat of numbness.”

Capua reports: “Once Olivier left the situation deteriorated: Vivien would follow Finch everywhere calling him “Larry”. She also started having hallucinations that were obviously not caused by exhaustion. Production decided to remove her from the set and fly her to Hollywood for a few weeks of rest before resuming work at the Paramount studio.”

Luckily Finch accompanied her on the trip, for as soon as the plane took off from Ratmalana Vivien unfastened her seatbelt, stood up and screamed that one of the wings was on fire. Assisted by the flight attendants, Finch tried to calm her, but she became hysterical, beating the plane windows with her fists and threatening to jump out of the plane. Then she started to strip off her clothes, clawing at everyone who tried to intervene, until finally they managed to sedate her.

On landing at Los Angeles Finch took Vivien to the house he had rented with his wife Tamara. On the tenth day of her stay at the Finches’ Vivien went to the studios to visit the set of Elephant Walk. She told Finch she felt fine, but a few hours later collapsed and was taken to her dressing room, where she became worse, quoting to Finch from Streetcar: “Get out of here before I start screaming ‘fire’! Get out of here before I start screaming ‘fire’!”

Vivien was swiftly sent to England for treatment for if she was diagnosed with mental illness she risked being confined to an institution. Thus Paramount was forced to terminate Vivien’s contract and find a substitute actress for the remainder of the filming. That person turned out to be Elizabeth Taylor, aged just 21, yet who had attained child stardom in 1944 in National Velvet. The long shots filmed in Ceylon with Vivien were used in the film, while all the dialogue and the close-ups had to be shot once again with Taylor. So the intended version was never completed, and Cinema has been left with an unsatisfactory hybrid; Vivien’s fans with just a few long shots to appreciate.

In December 1960 Olivier and Vivien were divorced. In May 1967 Vivien had a recurrence of tuberculosis and died on July 7, aged 53. Finch suffered a heart attack and died on January 14, 1977, aged 60. Olivier died of renal failure on July 11, 1989, aged 82.’

The Oliviers return to London from Ceylon.

The Oliviers return to London from Ceylon.

The Planter’s Wife filmed in Ceylon in 1952

The Planters Wife was a British Film shot in Ceylon, Sri Lanka in 1952, watched by Vernon Corea and his friends. According to the Sunday Times Sri Lanka: ‘In 1952, compatriot Ken Annakin (whose later films included the wacky Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and the bloody Battle of the Bulge) directed The Planter’s Wife (aka Outpost in Malaya in the US). This UK-produced film, made in black-and-white, is based on the novel of the same name by the popular war author, Sidney Charles George, and stars Claudette Colbert, Jack Hawkins and Anthony Steel. A supporting actor, primarily known as a classical Indian dancer, was Ram Gopal. He worked on several films in Ceylon.

The Planter’s Wife concerns a rubber planter and his wife who struggle to defend their home against communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency.’